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If Obama Cares about the Poor, He Should Endorse English

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

One of the baffling issues to me has been the argument by Democrats against making English the official language of the United States. President Obama displayed his commitment to Hispanic Americans by appointing Justice Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. If he really cares about immigrants and the poor, he would make English our official language and assure that all people learn to speak it in the United States.

I have had the good fortune of travelling to a vast part of the world. The people we encounter almost everywhere we have traveled speak English. I’m not referring only to hotel and restaurant personnel. When you stop people on the street, they also have a working knowledge of English. With the exception of two locations, we have had little or no difficulty speaking English only.

The first place was Japan, which was actually surprising. All Japanese are required to learn English in school. It was quite surprising to experience so little ability from the populace to speak even a modicum of English.

The other place is France. The French are still under the delusion that France is a significant country in the world, thus making their language important. Other than in France, the only other people speaking French are some in Belgium, some in Quebec and some in certain parts of Africa. English transitioned to the world’s official language with the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. While the treaty was issued in both English and French, it was nevertheless the end of the French era on the world stage.

Since the Elizabethan era and the defeat of the Spanish Armada, English has spread throughout the world. The English created their empire; including winning control of what would become the United States. Up until World War I, the “empire that never sleeps” spread the English language to all corners of the globe. After World War I, the United States was on the ascension. The climb was completed with the Second World War, and the United States has remained the dominant country in the world.

It is worth noting that in addition to the English language dominating since that time, so too has our culture. American movies and television are shown in all parts of the world. Most countries broadcast these shows just like we see them here in the United States – in English. Except of course in France, where you will see Jack McCoy speaking French. Most of the world can sit in their living rooms around the globe and learn to communicate in English.

We were recently in Copenhagen at The Jazzhouse. The artists came on stage and spoke Danish to the crowd. We figured that it was jazz and that is a universal language so we would not miss a beat -- so to speak. Yet, this was a vocal group and they started to sing in English. Not just classic songs, but their own compositions. At the end of the set we chatted with the people next to us, in English, and asked why all the songs were sung in English. They told us all the groups sing in English because they find it a more expressive language. Also, they probably find it to be more commercially viable. To our joy the next group came on and sang all their songs in English also.

Yet here in the United States, we have had a discussion about whether we should force our immigrants to learn English. In California, as in some other states, we have created English as a Second Language (ESL) which did nothing but cripple the chances for students to learn effective English. Radical groups fought for the right against forcing people to learn English for the purpose of maintaining “their culture.”

I have never understood this. As someone who is linguistically challenged, I am thankful daily for the fact that I was born in a country that speaks the dominant language of the world. If French or German or Russian were the dominant language, I would be at a great disadvantage in both my travels and my business. Fortunately for me, the language into which I was born is the one shared by the rest of the world.

The question then becomes: Why would anyone who cares about people coming to the United States fight against those immigrants learning English in the fastest and best way possible? If you want those people to succeed, why would you stop them from improving their communications skills? Whatever the arguments are pale in comparison to the clear benefits to anyone anywhere who learns English, especially those coming to America. Does anyone believe that Justice Sotomayor would be where she is today if she would have grown up in this era where Hispanics are coddled regarding their adapting to the language of America and the world? Her success has been based on her mastering the English language at an early age and moving on to a successful collegiate career.

If Obama really cares about the little guy, and if he really wants empathy from the government, then he should put this issue to rest. This is not cultural chauvinism, but rather the reality in the world. You cannot be either an airplane pilot or an international businessperson without English. Presidents have always made their mark going against the grain of elements of their party. If President Obama wants a real victory, he should have the United States recognize what the rest of the world already knows -- English is the language of commerce and the world.

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